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Sunday, February 22, 2009
Updated: February 25, 12:40 PM ET
Patterson named top African-American athlete

By Greg Biggins
ESPNRISE.com

LOS ANGELES -- Henry County (McDonough, Ga.) wide receiver and Stanford commit Jamal Patterson was awarded the 19th annual Franklin D. Watkins memorial trophy Saturday in Los Angeles. The award is presented each year to the nation's top African-American male high school scholar-athlete.

Jamal Paterson
Jamal Patterson, center, is flanked by his family upon receiving the Watkins award.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Patterson was among the top receivers in the country and had a big senior season, catching 56 balls for 1,150 yards and 13 touchdowns. Over his four-year varsity career, Patterson caught 144 passes for 3,100 yards and 41 touchdowns and carried a 4.65 GPA.

The four other finalists were Georgia signee Christopher Burnette (LaGrange, Ga./ Troup County), Florida-bound Jelani Jenkins (Silver Spring, Md./ Our Lady of Good Counsel), Stanford signee Jemari Roberts (Long Beach, Calif./ Wilson) and Richard Wilson (Spanish Fork, Utah), who is headed to BYU.

"I really want to share this with the other four finalists who have become like brothers to me," Patterson said. "Even though I'm taking the trophy home, we're all winners here."

Patterson said he hoped to change the way African-American athletes are perceived.

"It seems like every time you watch the news or read a story online about a professional athlete, it's always negative," Patterson said. "There is a lot of good being done out there too, and I feel this award should be promoted everywhere to show how much we can accomplish together.

"I know I have a lot to live up to but I have big goals for myself. I use the term 'goals' not 'dreams' because dreams are what you do when you sleep and goals are what you attempt to achieve. I want to make the Watkins committee proud and I truly believe with God and my family at my side, all things are possible."

Patterson joins a list of other noteworthy national honorees including Florida State safety and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle, the 2006 recipient, Marcus Houston (Colorado State, 2000) and Ronald Curry (North Carolina/Oakland Raiders, 1998).

Several past winners and finalists were on hand, including Rolle, Houston, 2008 winner Matthew Daniels (Duke), 2008 finalist Covaughn Deboskie (Cal), 2001 winner Michael Craven (Stanford, L.A. Avengers), 1999 finalist Chris Lewis and 2006 finalist and current Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who spoke earlier in the night.

"I didn't realize how important this award was until I got to college," McCoy said. "When my mother died, the first people who reached out to me were the Watkins committee. Once you're a finalist for this award, whether you win or not, you form a brotherhood with everyone associated with the award. That's a bond for life."

One of the biggest ovations of the night went to Rolle, who was awarded the Rhodes scholarship in November. He bypassed the NFL draft in April and will spend the year at Oxford, England, working on a master's degree in medical anthropology.

The Watkins Award, selected by the National Alliance of African-American Athletes, honors founder Franklin D. Watkins, a coach and mentor in Harrisburg, Pa., with a unique gift for communicating and relating to African-American youth.

Greg Biggins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's West recruiting blog and handles player personnel for the NIKE Football Training Camps for ESPNRISE.com.